What is SaaS security?

SaaS security is the protection of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, to minimize the risk of unauthorized access, shadow IT and any other misuse of them that could result in a data breach or disruption to an organization’s IT operations. SaaS security requires deep visibility and granular access control.

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How secure are SaaS applications?

It depends on how well access to them is secured.

Although SaaS providers do secure SaaS applications themselves through critical measures such as encryption, an organization is not truly safe unless all of this cloud software is also secured at its points of access and granularly monitored. Applications need tight access controls, such as secure web gateways (SWGs) and cloud access security broker (CASB) solutions, paired with SD-WAN infrastructure as part of a secure access service edge (SASE). Plus, they must also be transparent to IT security teams.

But adding all of this layered cybersecurity must not come at the cost of a diminished user experience. In other words, SaaS security must be fundamentally different from traditional security architectures, namely those built around MPLS WANs, which enforce their protections by backhauling all traffic through a data center. This setup degrades the usability of key cloud applications such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace.

The goals of SaaS security are to:

  • Secure such applications against malware and rogue access.
  • Do so in a way that does not noticeably impact user experience.
  • Closely track all cloud application usage to guard against shadow IT.
  • Control specific risks, such as excessive bandwidth usage and the use of personal Office 365 and Gmail domains.
  • Ultimately provide a uniform security posture and employee experience across every location, whether in office or remote.

What unique security challenges do SaaS applications create?

At a high level, every SaaS app is more easily accessible than an on-premises equivalent. This broad accessibility creates major application security challenges for an organization's security team:

Shadow IT

This term refers to the use of applications, typically ones in the cloud like SaaS, that have not been approved by IT. In some organizations, shadow IT may actually represent a majority of all SaaS consumption. This practice carries severe cybersecurity risks, since unvetted applications are not guaranteed to be properly secured, either in and of themselves or at the access level. Personal email domains and social media usage are notable examples in this category.

Performance and bandwidth

Cloud applications, including SaaS software, require significant bandwidth, a fact that impacts SaaS security and control in two big ways:

  • They can overconsume limited network resources, impacting performance for everyone else toward no productive end.
  • They can clash with conventional cybersecurity architectures, like MPLS WAN infrastructure, that lack bandwidth and must backhaul traffic, slowing it down.

Data loss

Related to the above, unsanctioned apps — or even approved ones that simply lack secure internet access — may leak sensitive information, precipitating a costly data breach. For example, an employee may freely use a personal cloud storage account to upload confidential data and then download it later on a personal device, increasing the chances that it makes its way into the outside world.

Unrestricted access

SaaS software isn’t bound by specific locations or devices. Broad network access, from virtually anywhere, is an integral part of its value proposition, as well as a risk for the typical IT security team as it struggles to control how employees use SaaS apps. Visibility across all locations, backed by granular access controls, is essential to preventing misuse.

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The key pillars of SaaS access security

Proper SaaS access security, e.g., all security that is not within the purview of the SaaS vendor/SaaS provider itself, is essential to running a modern organization, and it has two main pillars:

Holistic visibility

Organizations must know what SaaS apps are being used, by whom and in which locations. They should be able to track the most used apps, associated levels of traffic and any malware that was blocked, among other things.

Granular control

Productivity, social media and every other type of SaaS application must be carefully restricted in line with security team policies. For example, Google applications can be limited to company domains, while Facebook actions, such as uploading photos, can be tightly controlled.

Between them, these two pillars provide the support necessary to reach all of the aforementioned SaaS security goals. Those include the delivery of a secure yet productive user experience from any location or device and the mitigation of shadow IT.

What specific solutions enable SaaS security?

Achieving holistic visibility and granular control requires a specific mix of solutions. A few of the most important include:

SWGs

A SWG is a service that filters network traffic, including for SaaS applications, and enforces applicable security policies. IT sits between an end user and the internet, serving as a pivotal intermediary for screening out malware as employees connect to each SaaS vendor’s app.

CASB solutions

CASBs consolidate numerous types of access-related cybersecurity. They may enforce single sign-on, device profiling, multi-factor authentication and malware defense, for instance. Like SWGs, they function as a sort of cybersecurity gatekeeper for SaaS access.

Data loss prevention (DLP) tools

DLP solutions reduce the risk of data leakage by controlling what types of data users can access on their devices, how that information is transmitted over the network and where and how it is stored. This DLP software curbs the danger of data breaches and SaaS misuse.

All of these cybersecurity tools, alongside others, can be incorporated into a SASE architecture. Such protections work in tandem with SD-WAN infrastructure to deliver predictable and secure application performance from anywhere.

Citrix solutions for SaaS access security

Citrix offers multiple secure access solutions that protect SaaS software, led by Citrix Secure Internet Access:

  • Citrix Secure Internet Access combines secure direct internet access with a full suite of SASE protections, including CASB solutions, SWG infrastructure, SD-WAN service and DLP software. The result is security without compromised performance.
  • Citrix Secure Workspace Access enforces contextual security to protect users, data and applications from anywhere, using a zero-trust approach optimized for the world of ubiquitous SaaS software.

Learn how to protect SaaS applications with Citrix Workspace